Impending Brand Safety Woes: Nasty and Misleading Political Ads Hit Facebook

The 2016 election season alerted companies and their customers to the dangers of advertising (and believing what is advertised) on Facebook: Political advertising on the platform is not only divisive but also, on occasion, false, content no advertiser wants running before, after, or alongside their own media. News on a Trump campaign ad from Facebook this weeks suggest we are in the beginning stages of a nightmarish 2020 sequel.

Facebook is joining YouTube, Twitter, MSNBC, and Fox in running a 30-second Trump campaign ad that spreads the unsubstantiated claim that former Vice President Joe Biden sought to exchange US aid for the firing of a Ukraine prosecutor investigating a company where Biden’s son Hunter served on the board, Vox reports. In fact, Biden and other world leaders pushed for the firing of the prosecutor because he was not bringing enough corruption charges in a country plagued by bureaucratic abuse. CNN refused to air the ad.

This is disturbing news for companies on the supply and demand sides of the digital advertising ecosystem. If the ecosystem’s number-two player and other major platforms are willing to run disinformation campaigns and toxic political attack ads, other supply-side platforms will struggle to refuse the ad dollars they need to compete. In turn, consumers will be slammed with false and alienating content, and advertisers will risk subliminal or direct association with content their potential customers do not want to see.

If brand safety in the 2020 election season does not immediately seem concerning, consider the following: You’re an advertiser hoping to run digital ads for your advertising tech solution. You pay a publisher with huge traffic big money to score impressions on its platform. But as soon as a Democratic voter navigates to the site and sees your ad, along with it pops up a big Trump ad making inflammatory claims about Biden. The web surfer navigates away from the site. Who wins?

It would be wrong to single out Facebook for a decision plenty of other media outlets are making. But with its huge digital ad market share comes the responsibility for Facebook to lead on this issue. Right now, it’s leading a race to the bottom.

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Joe Zappa is the Managing Editor of Street Fight. He joined Street Fight as a contributing writer in 2015, has compiled the daily newsletter since 2016, and has spearheaded the newsroom's editorial operations since 2018. Follow him on Twitter @joe_zappa, and shoot him an email at jzappa@streetfightmag.com.
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